"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
The Post-Hussein Era: America, Russia,

Representatives Curt Weldon and Chet Edwards

The nations of the world are moving warily into the post-Saddam Hussein era. Bruised feelings, suspicions, and strained relations among old and new friends and allies abound. France, Germany, and Russia, which once saw little of common interest, now nurse a common grudge against what they see as America’s willingness to ignore their counsel. Healing all of these wounds will be important for America’s national interest, but none is more significant than restoring our increasingly close strategic relationship with Russia, for Russia is the only country that can make or break our war on terrorism.

Of paramount importance to the lives and safety of the American people are the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials and the expertise for building them that Russia and the other independent states inherited from the Soviet Union. The size of those inventories and that pool of scientific know-how, along with their dangerous vulnerability to theft or diversion, continue to pose dangers of immense proportions, dangers that we have not done enough to address.

A recent Department of Energy estimate put the amount of Russian weapons-usable nuclear materials at more than 1,500 tons.1 That is enough for more than 100,000 nuclear weapons.2 Just one weapon with an explosive power of 10 kilotons, somewhat smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, detonated at Grand Central Station in New York could kill about a half-million people and inflict about a trillion dollars of direct economic damage. The U.S. government considers that a real possibility; in October 2001, it was concerned that al Qaeda might have smuggled a 10-kiloton warhead into lower Manhattan. The fact that a Russian nuclear commander had recently reported that he could not account for a warhead that size ostensibly under his control was part of the reason for the concern.3

If a terrorist group setting off such a weapon were to claim the ability to detonate one or more additional bombs, the effect on the American people, our government, and our economy would be too horrific to assess.

It has been 12 years since Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and then-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) alerted the nation to this kind of danger and successfully proposed bold, forward-looking legislation establishing threat-reduction programs in the states of the former Soviet Union. They saw the danger to the United States, and to the whole world, of the Soviet-era nuclear legacy that had fallen to Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union.

The Need for More Threat Reduction

The Nunn-Lugar and related nonproliferation programs are beginning to account for and secure the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union while developing sustainable commercial employment for the tens of thousands of scientists and technicians who used to work in the development and production of weapons of mass destruction. The programs are aimed at exactly the right targets. As Nunn recently observed, “It becomes obvious from analyzing the terrorist path to a nuclear attack that the most effective, least expensive way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to secure nuclear weapons and materials at the source. Acquiring weapons and materials is the hardest step for the terrorists to take, and the easiest for us to stop.”4

What is distressing to note, looking back over the past decade, is that we have not moved with greater speed and determination to protect American lives from this great danger. These programs, despite being effective, are too small and have been operating at a pace that does not match the size and urgency of the problem. To cite just one example, working with Russia, we certainly by now should have completed “comprehensive upgrades” at all vulnerable nuclear sites in that country. These upgrades involving sophisticated security systems are along the lines of what we use here in the United States to protect our own stocks of weapons-grade materials. According to the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2004 budget documents, even by October 2004, comprehensive upgrades will not have been completed at facilities containing enough material for more than 22,000 nuclear weapons. This is far too risky given that a recent CIA report faulted the security of Russian nuclear arsenal facilities, noting that “undetected smuggling has occurred.”5

There is little to be gained from pointing fingers. Neither the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, nor the Congress, under either Democratic or Republican leadership, has given these programs the priority they deserve.

It strains credulity that we are apparently comfortable with leaving such large quantities of bomb material so lightly protected, or essentially unprotected, in sites in the former Soviet Union for years and years while we keep our own under heavily guarded, highly sophisticated, electronically based security. There is no doubt that terrorists not only want nuclear weapons but that they are actively attempting to acquire them. A Harvard study commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative recently reported that “[i]n October 2001, the commander of the force that guards Russia’s nuclear weapons reported that during that year, terrorist groups had twice carried out reconnaissance at Russian nuclear warhead storage sites—whose very locations are a state secret.”6 This report was confirmed by the official Russian government newspaper.7 In addition, there have been numerous other reports in the Russian press of terrorists reconnoitering nuclear warhead transport trains.8 Also, it has been reported that the 40 armed Chechens who seized hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theater in October 2002 had considered seizing a nuclear reactor with hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU)—enough to build several nuclear weapons.9

As the readers of this publication are well aware, the bipartisan task force headed by former Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker and former Clinton administration White House counsel Lloyd Cutler concluded in January 2001 that an effort in the magnitude of $30 billion over eight to 10 years was necessary in order to deal with nuclear threat reduction and nonproliferation problems in Russia.10 We have not yet even approached that level and are currently devoting only about $1 billion a year to this problem.

Last year at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Kananaskis, Canada, the participants established a Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and promised to “raise up to $20 billion” for the initiative over the next 10 years. That is still $10 billion shy of the Baker-Cutler recommendation and is spread over a much broader range of problems than preventing the proliferation of Russia’s nuclear weapons, materials, and know-how. It will address the spread of weapons of mass destruction on a global basis and include matters relating to nonproliferation, disarmament, counterterrorism, and nuclear safety and environmental issues. Thus, whether or how much the G-8 initiative will actually increase threat-reduction and nonproliferation efforts in Russia cannot be discerned at this point.

For example, the U.S. pledge of $10 billion essentially assumes a straight-lining of the U.S. programs at 6 percent less than the fiscal year 2002 level 11 and would be even less in real dollars after adjusting for inflation.

Another factor requiring increased U.S.-Russia nonproliferation efforts over the coming years is the fate of the thousands of Russian strategic warheads that will be removed from deployment under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The already beleaguered Russian system of accounting, securing, and destroying nuclear weapons and materials will be further stressed by the downloading of these warheads. Ensuring that these warheads do not proliferate should be a key U.S. objective in the years to come.

Clearly, we in Congress need to be doing more to enhance and accelerate these programs. A leading observer has noted the unsatisfactory pace of the U.S. programs this way: “Continuing on the current course…could leave key objectives unmet at the end of this decade.”12 That plainly is unacceptable.

But resources are not the only problem. The United States and Russia still have not ironed out the problems of working together efficiently, including problems of access to sensitive sites in Russia where security upgrades are necessary and of the need for the United States to be assured that work that has been paid for has been completed. Other problems include the fact that there are dozens of U.S. programs operated by three cabinet departments and other agencies. Thus, problems in the coordination or synchronization of the programs continue to arise.13

The challenges are as urgent as they are clear, and they require two immediate responses. First is ensuring that U.S.-Russian relations are on a plane where these nuclear nonproliferation programs can move ahead more aggressively and the difficulties in carrying them out can be resolved. This clearly is an issue requiring the attention of Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in their June 1 summit in St. Petersburg and in any subsequent talks between the leaders. Americans and Russians alike need the protection that these programs can provide, and they need that protection now. Many have recommended that these two leaders each designate a top-level official reporting directly to their respective president to lead and coordinate these programs.14 We agree. In both countries, these officials should each be charged with developing an integrated plan for their government’s part in these efforts, meeting with their counterpart, offering advice on the budgetary requirements for carrying out these plans, and alerting their president when problems requiring his intervention arise.

Urgent Next Steps

A strong congressional effort to take the Nunn-Lugar-type programs to a new level is necessary and is beginning to take shape. On April 10, we, together with a bipartisan group of 22 other members of Congress, introduced the Nuclear Security Initiative Act of 2003 to do just that.15 Many of these provisions have been included in the House version of the fiscal year 2004 defense authorization bill. (See ACT, June.) The Senate and the White House would be wise to endorse them as Congress hashes out the final House-Senate compromises on the defense bill.

Important next steps for Congress to address include: Enhance Security Upgrades and Expand Them to Research Reactors

We should accelerate the Department of Energy’s International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (MPC&A) program in order to quickly improve basic security measures at all nuclear weapons and materials storage facilities in the former Soviet Union. According to the Department of Energy’s own fiscal year 2004 budget documents, by October 2004, enough nuclear material to build 16,000 bombs will still be in Russian facilities lacking the most basic security protection, such as fences, strengthened doors and locks, and bricked-up or barred windows. These are the protections—the kind you would expect to find at a warehouse for storing home appliances in the United States—that can prevent ordinary burglars from breaking into buildings containing the makings of enormous tragedies in U.S. cities.

In addition, hundreds of facilities around the world, many of them too poor to provide basic security, have various quantities of plutonium or HEU.16 This situation poses a grave and immediate threat to our security, and we need a new approach to deal with it.

The recent success in Vinca, Yugoslavia, is illustrative. A research reactor facility there that had received HEU from the Soviet Union cooperated with an international team that returned the material to a secure site in Russia, where it was reduced to non-weapons-usable, low-enriched uranium (LEU). The United States provided $2 million to $3 million for this project, and making up for a gap in the U.S. government’s authority, a private nonprofit group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, donated $5 million.17 But we cannot afford the several months of interagency negotiations and the enlistment of private help that are currently needed to cobble together each of the dozens of Vinca-like projects that need to be undertaken as quickly as possible around the world.

Our legislation provided for such an expedited effort by permitting expansion of the MPC&A program authority to countries outside the former Soviet Union. It also would allow the administration to offer incentives to convince managers to part with fissile material that they see as critical to a research reactor’s reason for existing. Thus, our broader program would include the authority to purchase vulnerable HEU and plutonium and transport it to the United States or elsewhere for secure storage or neutralization and the authority to offer targeted financial and other incentives to encourage facilities to release the material. Incentives might include assistance with managing nuclear waste, funding to convert a reactor to the use of LEU, and decommissioning reactors and related facilities. Where it might be practical for a country to retain the fissile material, our expanded MPC&A program could assist with security upgrades that are considered adequate and sustainable.

Acceleration of HEU Blend-Down Program

Under a 1993 U.S.-Russian HEU Purchase Agreement, the U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a corporation serving as the U.S. executive agent under the agreement, each year buys about 30 tons of Russian HEU that has been removed from dismantled nuclear weapons and blended down to LEU, which is not weapons usable. USEC then sells the LEU on the U.S. market to nuclear power companies. The amount of HEU blended down annually is geared not to U.S. or Russian security demands but to what the U.S. market will bear without causing prices to drop too far or pushing American producers out of business. The agreement covers 500 tons of HEU and will run through 2013.
There are at least another 600 tons of HEU in Russia, however, that must be dealt with. Thus, section 3157 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 authorized a new program for blending down additional quantities of HEU in Russia that are not covered by the 1993 agreement. Our bill provides funds for expediting the expanded program of blending down HEU that is critically important to our security.

Fighting the Smuggling of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Related Materials

Another provision of the bill addresses the need to back up our efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials with measures to combat smuggling of the weapons, materials, and technologies. Although terrorist organizations lack the capacity at this time to attack the United States with a ballistic missile, it is quite likely that a terrorist organization that gained control of a nuclear weapon or the material to build one could smuggle it into the United States across our northern or southern border or by boat. Only about four kilograms of plutonium or 20 kilograms of HEU is needed for a bomb.18

Several states of the former Soviet Union with stockpiles of nuclear materials, however, lack the legal and institutional frameworks to monitor and control exports effectively, as well as the infrastructure and personnel necessary to implement such controls. In many cases, these countries have borders that are thousands of miles long and national governments that often do not have the ability to monitor, patrol, or secure them. According to the latest estimate, only 45 percent of Russia’s customs checkpoints have operable radiation detectors and monitors.19 Some borders in the former Soviet Union are considered particularly sensitive, including points of entry into Iran on the Caspian Sea.

The same provision also recognizes the great challenge we face in monitoring the more than 20,000 shipping containers that enter the United States each day. New technology could help us determine if any vessel in a port contains nuclear material. If we placed such equipment in ports overseas, we could determine whether a vessel is free of nuclear materials before it departs for the United States rather than after it has entered a U.S. port.

Our legislation authorizes aid to the former Soviet states to improve their border controls, to track and intercept illicit transfers of weapons of mass destruction and the materials and technologies for building them, and to work with other countries to install in their ports devices to detect nuclear or radiological weapons or materials.

“Silk Road” Initiative

In addition to work in Russia to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, more work needs to be done in the countries on Russia’s periphery to ensure that materials and weapons that terrorists might attempt to smuggle out of Russia are interdicted and to ensure that people with weapons of mass destruction expertise in states of the former Soviet Union other than Russia find gainful, peaceful employment. To this end, we want to establish a “Silk Road” Initiative (SRI). The SRI would provide assistance to develop sustainable employment opportunities for scientists, engineers, and technicians formerly employed in the production of weapons of mass destruction in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries—new and struggling democracies that have been very helpful to the United States in the war against terrorism—would benefit considerably from this assistance, and U.S. national security would be enhanced.

Under the leadership of the secretary of energy, the SRI would incorporate the best practices under current and former Department of Energy “brain drain” programs with Russia and facilitate commercial partnerships between private entities in the United States and scientists, engineers, and technicians in the Silk Road countries. Our bill requires that, before fully implementing this new program, the secretary of energy carry out a pilot program with respect to one Silk Road state, preferably Georgia.

Chemical, Biological Weapons Plan

In addition to addressing the threat posed by nuclear weapons, the United States needs to improve its efforts to reduce the threat posed by biological and chemical weapons. Our legislation would address two of the most important steps that could be taken on this front: the creation of a comprehensive plan for biological and chemical weapons nonproliferation programs in the states of the former Soviet Union and the designation of a senior official to coordinate those programs. For too long, these programs have operated without a strategic vision and strong leadership. The principal objectives of this proposal are to focus the very top levels of government on the issue; to fill the need for one high-level official to take responsibility for overseeing and coordinating these programs; and to establish priorities, identify gaps and overlaps, and take advantage of synergies.

Inventory Nuclear Weapons

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union produced more than a thousand metric tons of weapons-grade nuclear material, enough to build approximately 175,000 nuclear warheads.20 In 1986, at the height of the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons buildup, the two countries possessed almost 64,000 nuclear warheads.21 Today, the United States and Russia possess more than 95 percent of the world’s assembled nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material.

Unfortunately, the Russian nuclear establishment is unable to account fully for its inventory of weapons-grade material and nuclear weapons. With its closed society, complete with closed and isolated nuclear cities, closed borders, and an intrusive KGB, the Soviet Union never saw the need for the extensive record keeping and physical security measures the United States adopted for nuclear installations during and since the Cold War. This appears to have been especially true for weapons-grade nuclear material and maybe even for portable “tactical” nuclear warheads.22 Now that we are partners with a newly democratic Russia, we need to do all we can to correct that situation in order to help us work together to secure weapons and materials.

For these reasons, the United States must establish a comprehensive inventory of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and materials, accompanied by exchanges of the inventory information. Our legislation requires that particular attention be paid to tactical warheads and warheads that are no longer operationally deployed. Such inventories and exchanges, which would be the first steps in a long process, would accelerate the process of establishing fissile material and warhead inventories in which both sides have confidence. Additional steps would include ongoing declarations, inspections to check the accuracy and completeness of the declarations, and measures to verify the dismantling or safe storage of warheads and the elimination of warhead components.

Other provisions included in our proposal further strengthen programs to provide former weapons of mass destruction scientists and engineers with sustainable commercial employment, accelerate programs for closing nuclear weapons production facilities in Russia, enhance the program for improving security at facilities in Russia containing “dirty bomb” radiological materials, and establish a formal Duma-Congress nuclear threat reduction working group.

Preventing terrorists and hostile states from acquiring nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is the central requirement of the U.S. national security agenda. As President Bush has stated, “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed…. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best…. History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act.”23 By taking the steps outlined above, the leadership of the United States will be acting to fulfill its primary duty—protecting the security of the American people.


1. March 6, 2003, letter from the Associate Administrator for Management and Administration of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy, reprinted in the General Accounting Office report, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Additional Russian Cooperation Needed to Facilitate U.S. Efforts to Improve Security at Russian Sites,” GAO-03-482 (March 2003), p. 80 (hereinafter GAO report).

2. This figure is based on the conservative assumption that all of this material is highly enriched uranium, requiring about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) for a nuclear weapon, although it contains much plutonium, of which only about 4 kilograms (about 9 pounds) is needed. See Matthew Bunn, Anthony Wier, and John P. Holdren, “Controlling Nuclear Warheads and Materials: A Report Card and Action Plan,” (Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University 2003), p. 13, n. 9 and accompanying text, available at http://www.nti.org/e_research/cnwm/index.asp (hereinafter NTI study).

3. Massimo Calabresi and Romesh Ratnesar, “Can We Stop the Next Attack?” Time, March 3, 2002.
4. Sam Nunn, “Keynote Address,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2002 Non-Proliferation Conference, November 14, 2002, available at http://www.nti.org/c_press/speech_samnunn_1114.pdf.

5. Central Intelligence Agency, “Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces,” (February 2002), available at http://www.cia.gov/nic/pubs/other_products/icarussiansecurity.htm.

6. NTI study, p. 14.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. “A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Nonproliferation Programs with Russia,” Task Force of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (January 2001).

11. The fiscal year 2002 level totaled $1.065 billion. William Hoehn, “Observations on the President’s Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request for Nonproliferation Programs and the Former Soviet Union,” (Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, February 11, 2003), available at http://www.ransac.org/new-web-site/index.html.

12. Text of April 24, 2003, letter from the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council to the U.S. Congress on the future of weapons of mass destruction threat reduction, available at http://www.ransac.org/new-web-site/index.html.

13. NTI study; GAO report, p. 43, (concluding that the Departments of Defense and Energy need “an integrated plan” for their related programs for helping secure Russia’s nuclear warheads).

14. NTI study, pp. 122-24.

15. In addition, another two cosponsors subsequently signed on.

16. NTI study, p. 142.

17. Department of State, Fact Sheet, August 23, 2002.

18. NTI study.

19. U.S.-Russian Legislative Working Group on Nonproliferation, “Statement on the Need to Expand Nonproliferation Export Control Assistance to Russia,” adopted January 28, 2003.

20. Harold Feiveson and Steve Fetter, “Verifying Deep Reductions in Nuclear Forces,” in Harold Feiveson, ed., The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-alerting of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1999), p. 221.

21. Natural Resources Defense Council Nuclear Notebook, “Global Nuclear Stockpiles, 1945–2002,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 6, (Nov./Dec. 2002), pp. 103–104.

22. John D. Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2000), pp. 73-80.

23. The White House, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” September 2002.


Curt Weldon (R-PA) is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. Chet Edwards (D-TX) is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.